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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Grownups Play With Their Food....Sauteed Baby Octopus and THE BEST ROAST CHICKEN

Every now and then I think it's imperative to spoil yourself. For me, that means spending far to much on fancy ingredients and making a luscious meal. (Really, who wasn't expecting that.) I experimented with two different ingredients I've never used before: baby octopi, and sunchokes.  

I was wandering through the Union Square Farmer's market (in search of some perfect bone-in and skin-on chicken breasts) and found over three stands selling sunchokes. Which got me curious: what the hell are sunchokes??? I mean, I've heard of them, but I had no idea what they taste like. And the problem with farmer's markets and I are that, I just can't resist. Local dairy farms selling unbelievable heavy cream (trust me)? Why not? A pound of winesap apples? Yes please. Cider doughnuts? Well, ok I say no to those, because they are always disappointing. But really expensive lamb bacon I don't need? Well, you get the picture.

So, in case I haven't mentioned this to you guys before, roast chicken with root vegetables has apparently become my absolute favorite meal. I've roasted two whole chickens in the last month, and while I loved both of them, something was lacking. But I still craved roast chicken. So finally, on a night with a great horror movie on my Netflix queue ("The Thing", awesome) and several pages of my script waiting to be written, I decided to make my own version of roast chicken with root vegetables, with essentially just half the bird.

I bought these chicken breasts from a local farmer at, of course, the farmer's market. At first I was mentally kicking myself for spending almost 10 bucks on two chicken breasts (they were large, in my defense), but after taking one bite, all my suspicions were gone. This chicken was frigging AMAZING. The crispness of the skin, the juiciness of the took all my strength to not just eat as much as I could hovering over the roasting pan.

The crispiness of the skin was through a trick I learned from America's Test Kitchen. Strange as it may sound: baking powder. Mixing it with the salt and pepper used to season the meat it helps brown and dry the skin. Also, make sure to loosen the skin from the meat, which stops moisture from being trapped between the meat and skin and making things soggy. I should apologize right now for all my readers in the nyc area, for the life of me I can't remember the name of the farmer I got my chicken from. But don't worry, I'll be scouring Union Square till I find him. Oh, and by the way, the sunchokes were fantastic! Roasted them with carrots, yukon gold potatoes, and red onions. The sunchokes reminded me of yucca, which I love. Another fantastic veggie to add to this mix is fennel. Now on to the octopus...

Not sure if anyone remembers the glorious day of warmth we had on Monday, but I just couldn't stay inside, no matter how much work I had. Wandered around, stopped by the Housing Works bookstore (a lovely place to peruse, by the way, I became a member and everything), and finally couldn't stop myself from walking into Dean & Deluca about a block away from the bookstore. At $10 a pound these baby octopi looked amazing. The very cute fishmonger mentioned they came in just that day. I was pretty much sold at this point, and because of the fish guy's cute smile.  =)

I marinated the octopus first with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper for half an hour. Meanwhile, I set about sauteeing sliced garlic and chopped red onion. When the aromatics are soft and cooked through you should take them out of the pan, as the octopus needs to be cooked on high heat, which will burn the garlic and onions. I, of course in my lazy state, decided to skip this step. Big mistake.

I decided to keep it simple with my cooking strategy. The essential flavoring elements are garlic, onion, lemon and parsley. Even with my several stupid (and obvious) mistakes with this recipe, these little eight legged creatures were still delicious. Which is a shame, as that means I'll just be shopping at Dean & Deluca more, a hobby I simply cannot afford.

If these octopi looks funny, it's because they are covered in flour, which I thought would be nice, and make them crispy while being sauteed. No, do not do this. Only batter and flour octopus if you are going to deep fry them, otherwise your flour becomes a mushy mess in the pan, and you get something that very vaguely resembles a strange, seafood-esque oatmeal. Luckily, when I pushed the breading aside, there was glorious, perfectly cooked octopus underneath. Victory! So those are my two wonderfully indulgent, fairly simple recipes you can whip out whenever you feel like doing something special on a Tuesday or any old weekday night. And please invite me over if you're making roast chicken.

Roasted Chicken w/ Root Vegetables

Note: I’m one of those rare fans of white meat over dark, hence why I use only chicken breasts here. However, you’re more than welcome to try this out with chicken legs and thighs. While the breast is done at 160 degrees, thighs and legs should register at 175 degrees.

Another Note: This is quite the decadent meal with the generous use of butter. I really loved serving this over some raw bitter greens which cut through the richness of the chicken and veggies. Perfect “cold night in” kind of food.

Oh Yeah, One Last Thing: The kind of chicken you use is very important. I generally buy only from my local farmer’s market, which has sustainable free range chicken. Not necessary to get the best of the best, but I’d really recommend staying away from Perdu-esque poultry.

2 large bone-in skin on chicken breasts
1 ½ tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ tbsp. dried tarragon
1 tbsp kosher salt
3 tsp pepper
½ tsp baking powder
6-8 tbsp clarified butter, melted
2-3 carrots, peeled and cubed
3 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium red onions, cubed
1 large fennel bulb, cubed
4-5 small sunchokes, peeled and cubed
7-8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, cut into eighths

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place all vegetables and lemon wedges into roasting pan. Sprinkly 2 tsp of salt and pepper on top, along with 1 tbsp of thyme and dried tarragon. Drizzle about 2-3 tbsp butter on top. Toss with hands to make sure all veggies are coated evenly.

Bring chicken to room temperature. Thoroughly dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix the rest of the salt, pepper, thyme, tarragon and baking soda. Loosen skin from meat with fingers.  Sprinkle seasoning mixture all over chicken and under skin. Drizzle butter onto chicken and rub over breasts (don’t giggle) and under skin. Place chicken pieces on top of vegetables and roast in oven for about 30-35 minutes, until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees at center of breast. Remove chicken from pan and let sit for 10 minutes under foil. Let vegetables continue roasting.

Serve atop raw dark greens (kale, collard, turnip, etc.).

Sauteed Baby Octopus w/ Garlic, Onion and Tomato         
Note: I had my fishmonger take care of any prep work for the octopi, so I didn’t need to remove any skin/beaks. I’d recommend if you’re able to get the people at your fish market to do the same, do so. Unless you like butchering octopi, then have at it.

½ lb baby octopi (about 4-5 whole), rinsed
2 tsp garlic chopped, 4 cloves sliced
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
¼ cup and 3 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
½ cup chopped tomatoes
half a lemon
handful of chopped parsley leaves
salt and pepper

Place the octopi in a shallow bowl. Add ¼ cup olive oil, chopped garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss octopi a few times and let marinate for half an hour.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp oil in sauté pan and gently cook onions till soft. Add garlic and cook till fragrant and soft. About 5 to 7 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. When garlic and onions are properly softened and starting to caramelize, transfer to a plate.

Add remaining tbsp of oil and get to high heat. When pan is good and hot, add octopi, cooking quickly. When the legs are starting to curl up around the body add white wine. Bring heat down just a bit and add back the garlic and onions.

As soon as the legs have curled up tightly turn off the heat. Add chopped tomatoes, juice and all, and stir. Take that half a lemon and squeeze it all over the top. Then add  the parsley. Taste, and add more seasoning if necessary.

Serve atop pea shoots or any other greens.

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